House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
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Taken before the Liaison Committee
Mr Alan Williams, in the Chair
Mr Kevin Barron
Sir Alan Beith
Sir Patrick Cormack
Mr Andrew Dismore
Dr Hywel Francis
Mr Edward Leigh
Mr Terry Rooney
Mr Mohammad Sarwar
Mr Barry Sheerman
Dr Phyllis Starkey
Mr John Whittingdale
Mr Phil Willis
Dr Tony Wright
Witness: Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Prime Minister, gave evidence.
Chairman: Welcome again, Prime Minister, on your fifth appearance before the Committee. On this occasion we have five themes and, as in the past, you have been given advance notice of the themes but given no advance notice of any of the questions. The five themes are dealing with the deficit, which will be led by Peter Luff. The second is invigorating democracy, led by Tony Wright. The third is counter-terrorism policy, led by Keith Vaz. The fourth is foreign affairs, led by Mike Gapes. The fifth and final theme is on being Prime Minister, led by Sir Alan Beith. I suggest we go straight into the first theme.
Luff: Prime Minister, I am going to ask you a few
questions about the annual deficit and then, if there is time, one or two about
the accumulating debt before asking my colleagues to join in on the specific
consequences of that. Can I ask two
factual questions to start? As a
proportion of GDP the Economist
Mr Brown: I think you have got to add what was said by President Obama in his budget last night. I think it is right to have run a large deficit, it has been essential for us to have the recovery that is necessary for the economy. As a result of that, in the face of the biggest financial crisis the world has seen for 70 years, we managed to maintain far higher levels of employment than we would otherwise have been able to achieve, save businesses that might otherwise have gone bankrupt ---
Q2 Mr Luff: But is it factually accurate? Is it true?
Mr Brown: --- and at the same time kept people from having their homes repossessed. Our level of deficit will be published in the Budget and, yes, it is a high level of deficit, but we have got the advantage of having started from a low level of debt.
Q3 Mr Luff: We will deal with debt later.
Mr Brown: Therefore, we have been flexible enough to be able to afford the deficit.
Luff: Let us look at the deficit for a second
because it is not just about the recession, it is an underlying structural deficit. General consensus is that lies within a range
of two-thirds to four-fifths that is structural and nothing to do with the
recession. Your own Treasury Chief
Economic Adviser says it is 70 per cent.
The IMF said in November that
Mr Brown: I do not agree with the
structural problem that you detail. The
reason we are confident that our deficit reduction plan can deal with the
problems that have been caused by the recession is because we entered the
recession with a very low level of debt compared with other countries. You have got to go back to what the level of
debt was, and the underlying level of debt in our economy was lower than
Q5 Mr Luff: So it is right to have a deep structural deficit?
Mr Brown: No, I did not say that. I am talking about the level of debt we had as we were entering the recession, and the level of debt was lower than other countries. It meant that we were able to run a flexible enough policy with a high deficit to take us through the recession. I think history will show that in comparison with the 1980s and 1990s recessions we did the right things to keep unemployment as low as possible, we did the right things to avoid repossessions and we ended the year with more businesses than we started the year.
Q6 Mr Luff: Prime Minister, that is not about the structural deficit, but never mind. I will move on because time is against us. You were talking about debt: do you agree the target you set as Chancellor for sustainable debt levels of 40 per cent of GDP over the economic cycle has been breached spectacularly and it will reach 78 per cent or so by 2014, not returning to your own definition of sustainability - I am talking about debt now - until the 2030s?
Mr Brown: The average G7 debt is going
to be around 100 per cent. Every country
has faced this problem. Every country
has a higher level of debt as a result of the recession. Every country -
Q7 Mr Luff: I note you say the IMF is ridiculous in saying we face the largest fiscal adjustment and have the deepest underlying structural problem.
Mr Brown: I did not actually say that.
Q8 Mr Luff: Well, I think that is the implication. Just one last question from me before I pass on to my colleagues. Do you accept the almost universal analysis in the City, irrespective of when we begin deficit reduction - there is a political debate about that and I understand that debate - that your plans to do so are not sufficiently clear and that is causing them great concern and the view is that is causing some disputes deep at the heart of Government as to what the right strategy is on dealing with the deficit?
Mr Brown: I think if we are talking about clarity then our position is a four year deficit reduction plan; a deficit reduction plan that involves major changes, including a rise in the top rate of tax, including also a rise in National Insurance to maintain our health and our education services, including removing very substantial pension tax relief, including cuts in public expenditure, cuts that include public sector pay rising far less than people have expected, including changes in public sector pensions, and also including cancelling programmes such as the IT programme in the Health Service where we felt it was not a priority for the future as well as changing some of our regeneration programmes. We have made substantial announcements because we have got a four year plan to cut the deficit. I believe when people look at the details of that plan they will be satisfied that we are taking the actions necessary. I just finish by saying that if we were to cut that deficit more quickly and if we were to cut that deficit now, this year, just as we are trying to get out recession, then the economy would suffer, more jobs would be lost, more businesses would go under and more homes would be repossessed. It is not just a point of political controversy about the time at which you start to reduce the deficit, it is a matter of jobs, a matter of homes, a matter of businesses, and those people who want to cut the deficit immediately, and cut it very fast, are making a mistake with the economy which needs the level of support that we are giving it.
Q9 Mr Luff: Prime Minister, I just point out that almost no-one in the City agrees with you that your plans are clear enough. They have studied them and do not agree with you, they want greater clarity. Can I ask you, those plans are based on growth forecasts that are quite optimistic in my view, but should the growth prove to be an underestimate and, say, you get more proceeds from taxation than you expect, what should be done with that money: reduce borrowing, lower taxes or increase spending?
Mr Brown: The first thing is I do not accept that our growth projections are over-optimistic and you are basing your whole question on that. I believe that when you see the American announcement yesterday that they are expecting to get to four per cent growth in the next two years that will show that the world is hoping that it can create the growth at a faster rate to get out of recession, so I do not think we are unusual in expecting a higher rate of growth next year than this year and the year after than the year before. As far as the balance, our balance has always been between taxation that is fair, public services that are essential and securing the reduction in the borrowing that is desirable, and getting that balance right is what the judgment of every Budget is about and the Chancellor, in my view, will continue to make the right judgments about that. The premise of your question is a pessimism about the British economy that I do not share and I do not believe that the British people share either.
Mr Luff: Well I do not believe that the economy will return to above trend growth rates, that is true, but that is a different point.
Q10 Dr Starkey: Prime Minister, one of the ways in which public spending can be reduced or maybe made more effective is through efficiency savings. Local government has already been much more effective than central government in delivering efficiency savings: a billion pounds a year and they have met their target ahead of time. What are the lessons that central government could learn from local government?
Mr Brown: First of all, local
government has had a very substantial additional sum of money from central government
in recent years, so local government is not having to make efficiency savings
in an atmosphere where they have been starved of money over the last few years,
they have had very substantial sums of money as a result of the public
expenditure plans particularly, of course, for education. Secondly, we learn lessons. The
Q11 Dr Starkey: Indeed. I was very interested to catch the television less than hour ago to see you talking about it, Prime Minister. I have written down my questions so everybody knows I had decided what to ask before you decided to do that, there is no collusion. I did want to ask you about Total Place and whether you agree with the figure in the PricewaterhouseCooper analysis that was commissioned by London councils which suggested that if Total Place were carried out across the whole country there could be a 15 per cent saving on the spending on public services which they thought would help very significantly in tackling inflammatory prices. Do you agree with those figures from PwC?
Mr Brown: I have been at a number of
meetings where we have discussed how this
Q12 Dr Starkey: So are you going to use the savings to reduce future central funding for local government?
Mr Brown: Our aim is to fund local government fairly. Of course, in the last few years the council tax has risen far more slowly than in previous periods. We have tried at the same time as delivering good local services to keep the council tax down. We will try at all times to make sure that the balance is right between the local taxpayer and the provision of national funds.
Q13 Dr Starkey: Can I then turn to a different aspect of local spending which is about capital investment in infrastructure and in particular in the housing stock, which is absolutely essential particularly in relation to housing in order to avoid the stock deteriorating further and future maintenance costs being much higher. Are you going to be similarly helpful to proposals that local government are bringing forward for new ways of funding it, such as tax increment funding, which would obviously require the Treasury to be a bit more forthcoming than it has been in the past?
Mr Brown: For a long period of time local authorities were really never in a position to build any houses, so it has been important that some ---
Q14 Dr Starkey: Prime Minister, I am not talking necessarily about building houses. I am talking about particularly those councils which still have very large public housing stock which is still not in very good condition where they need to be investing to maintain the quality of the stock.
Mr Brown: I was talking about the flexibilities now available to local authorities, and one of those areas is in the ability to build houses. As far as the repair and maintenance of houses are concerned, I do not think any government has done more. We have repaired and renovated over two million houses. It was our priority for the first few years. Perhaps the balance between building houses and repairing houses has had to change and, therefore, we are putting more money into building affordable houses than we did before. Certainly I agree with you, you cannot allow the stock of houses to fall into disrepair, and it is not our intention to do so. We have had a huge programme of investment over these last 12 years in repairing houses.
Q15 Dr Starkey: What I was asking was whether the Government and the Treasury in particular will be more sympathetic to looking at new ways of councils bringing in money so they can design their own schemes and raise their own finance, and not be reliant on central schemes.
Mr Brown: This is an issue about the discretion that local authorities have to borrow. This is also an issue that is important to housing associations as well in what they do. Clearly the Treasury will continue to look at those in relation to that to get the balance right between allowing agencies or councils to have the discretion to make their own decisions, but not allowing borrowing to be higher simply because something happens right across the local authority sector to increase a high level of debt.
Q16 Dr Starkey: What I am asking is whether there will be a change in emphasis and they will be more sympathetic and less hidebound given that there will be a shortage of funds.
Mr Brown: I am saying we are prepared to look at this and whether we can help local authorities more effectively to deliver the best housing possible.
Dr Starkey: Thank you.
Q17 Mr Barron: Prime Minister, I just wanted to ask you on the issue of health. Clearly the debate that is going on round the country, and I am not sure whether the Government would endorse this, is they are looking at a £20 billion saving over the next three years in the health budget, notwithstanding that has grown quite a lot in the last five or six years, no question about that. How could we reduce the health budget on that scale and protect frontline services as you have committed the Government to?
Mr Brown: Frontline services in our healthcare are going to be protected. As part of our deficit reduction plan we are ensuring that part of our healthcare is going to have real terms funding increases so that we are in a position to deliver the best healthcare possible. As part of that, we are moving, as I said in my speech earlier today, to a quite new definition of what the public can expect from public services. Before we used to talk about aspirations and then we talked about targets; now we are talking about guarantees that are individual guarantees to those who use the Health Service that they have a right to expect that they will have their operation within 18 weeks, that they will see a cancer specialist within two weeks and then coming down to one week, that they will have the right to a free health check-up over 40, at the same time that they will have a right to see a doctor at the weekend or in the evenings, and in social care the right for urgent needs social care in their home if that is what is assessed as being necessary. These are the ways that we can move the Health Service forward. Where can we make efficiencies that will allow this to be even more effective? We have announced changes in the way we are dealing with the IT programme and changes the Department of Health is making in its central budget. Of course, we have built hospitals. We have built 110 new hospital developments. I think we have spent £40 billion on new hospitals in the last ten years. We have built more in the Health Service than has been done at any time in the history of the service and, therefore, you have had that catch-up investment and you cannot expect that you are going to have the same level of capital investment in the next year or two, although it does remain high. That is the way we are going to be able to deliver the best health services we can directly to the individual.
Q18 Mr Barron: You talked about the 18 weeks but the targeting that is being done effectively around patient choice will it be protected during this next three years, that is what you are telling the Committee?
Mr Brown: I do not see a situation in
which we will be anything other than able to guarantee that the maximum level
of wait for a hospital operation is 18 weeks, in fact the average is below 10
weeks at the moment but the maximum is 18 weeks. I actually see a situation where although you
have to wait two weeks to see a cancer specialist, and that is something which
has been a big change in making people's fears less as a result of the time gap
being shorter in seeing a cancer specialist, we want to get that down to one
week where you can get the results of a cancer scan and have it in your hands
within a week. We think that is an
essential way of removing the fear that so many people have of cancer. If I may say so, the two big advances in
recent years in cancer treatment are, first, the development of screening and
then the development of proper diagnosis.
If someone who is suffering from breast cancer or bowel cancer, these
are two examples, gets screening early and gets the diagnosis early and
therefore gets the treatment early, the rate of survival is more than 90 per
cent as a result of the work that has been done. That is a big change that is taking place in
Q19 Mr Barron: Finally, Prime Minister, you talk about protecting front line service jobs as well, you see that there are some going to be some changes in employment in healthcare?
Mr Brown: There will always be changes in the health service. There is a Commission on Nursing at the moment that is about to report in the next few days. I have been fascinated to have a meeting with that Commission over the last few days, and they have just been telling me how the role of nursing is going to change over the next few years. Nurses are now doing operations, they are now doing surgical operations in certain cases. You have nurse consultants, you have nurses leading the profession in so many different ways and the skills that nurses can bring to the profession will change the nature of medicine as a whole as we move forward into this new era where prevention is going to be as important as cure and where a lot of energy will be put into making sure that people do not contract diseases or conditions that they have in the first place rather than simply having the health service as a repair service for people who are ill.
Q20 Mr Barron: I am just tempted, Prime Minister, when you talk about prevention, that has been the easiest budget that has been cut back in the National Health Service for decades now and we think that will be protected, do we?
Mr Brown: We have announced that one of the guarantees we want to give to people is that whereas previously you could only get a full health check-up in the private sector, and people had to pay for that, and therefore large numbers of people went without the chance of that health check and never had that, we want to offer people that preventative help which is a free health check as soon as possible. That is one of the things that we want to introduce and equally, of course, the screening and the diagnostic equipment that is being advanced for prevention in relation to diseases like cancer.
Q21 Mr Willis: Prime Minister, I suspect this is the last time we will meet in this forum, well certainly for me.
Mr Brown: I hope not, maybe for you.
Willis: We never know.
I am retiring, I do not know about you.
I think it would be churlish of me not to recognise your support both as
Chancellor and indeed as Prime Minister for our science base, and I want to put
that on the record. When we look at
protecting it over the next decade the
Mr Brown: What
Q23 Mr Willis: I think, Prime Minister, you are making the case and, indeed, if I take you back to just a year ago when you gave the Romanes Lecture at Oxford, you said, "...the downturn is no time to slow down our investment in science but to build more vigorously for the future. And so we will not allow science to become a victim of the recession...". They were your exact words. Is that still your view when in the Pre-Budget Report you slashed £600 million from science funding and from higher education?
Mr Brown: First of all, we have kept science spending going through the recession, there are no cuts taking place at the moment in science spending because we have put the money in. As for the future, this is a debate about the efficiency of the universities and, of course, our science and other research institutes. We believe that like in other areas there are efficiency savings which can be made without affecting the quality of the work that is being done.
Q24 Mr Willis: You can reduce science funding and it would not be a victim of the recession, is that what you are saying?
Mr Brown: Hold on, I said that during
the recession, which is now over, we have maintained levels of science
funding. In the recovery we have already
set aside considerable sums of money for science and technology projects. I think the Technology Strategy Board
announced 220 projects only a few weeks ago.
Equally on science, we are making huge progress in some of these key areas
Q25 Mr Willis: Prime Minister, your Secretary of State has announced that there is going to be a standstill in terms of research funding for science. That is not, in fact, the sort of investment you were talking about a year ago, so have we stopped investing from this point onwards?
Mr Brown: Hold on. I do admire the persistence in which you put the case both for universities and for science but research activity has doubled since 1997.
Q26 Mr Willis: I started my remarks, Prime Minister, by actually congratulating you on that.
Mr Brown: Exactly. The issue is what we will do in future years. That is a matter for the spending reviews that will happen but I am assured by the Department of Business and by our Science Minister, Lord Drayson, that we can maintain the very considerable investments we are making in science. Now there are going to be some efficiency savings but I think we can maintain the basic investments we are making. Some of them, by the way, are with the Wellcome Trust and with foundations outside Government so some of them are partnerships that we are trying to advance as well.
Willis: Can I ask you finally a simple question. In 2004 you set a target of 21/2 per cent of
Mr Brown: It is very interesting because the European Union will be discussing exactly this at its meeting on February 11, investment in science. The private and public research and development, this is the target, is a target related to private as well as public investment in research and development. We will be looking at how we can move this forward and it may be that we can work in co-operative projects in the European Union to increase the level of spending.
Q28 Mr Willis: What is our target, Prime Minister?
Mr Brown: I think you will have to wait for the Budget to hear that.
Mr Sheerman: When is the Budget?
Luff: Prime Minister, just a couple of wind up
questions. Can you unravel a mystery for
me please. Yesterday I read in my Times
that you are planning to increase defence expenditure. The
Mr Brown: I think defence expenditure is rising.
Q30 Peter Luff: That is news. It is.
Mr Brown: It is rising this year and it is rising in the next financial year.
Luff: That is not what the
Mr Brown: I am sorry, I am telling you what is happening. Defence expenditure ---
Q32 Peter Luff: This is news. It is very good news.
Mr Brown: If you would allow me to
finish. Defence expenditure is rising
this year and next year. Defence
expenditure for future years is the subject of our spending review. There will be a paper published, I think
tomorrow, on the Strategic Defence Review that we are having. The Strategic Defence Review will lead into
our spending review, then we will make the decisions for future years. I think what was being emphasised at the
weekend was the importance of the additional spending above the defence
budget. When you are talking about the
defence budget, above the defence budget, and that is the money that is spent
Luff: You are saying that the use of the contingency
accounts for the increase you are claiming.
Mr Brown: There has been no announcement about the future of defence spending in the spending review. That will be decided by the spending review.
Q34 Peter Luff: I am not much clearer, to be honest, but I will look forward to the announcement on the review. You are planning to do something with defence expenditure, maintain health expenditure, increase schools expenditure, your Chancellor rightly says you have no deep cuts in public expenditure. If you are increasing expenditure in these areas, maintaining others, it means other departments have to take proportionately larger shares in the reductions. Which departments will take the larger shares?
Mr Brown: We announced in the
Pre-Budget Report where we would achieve substantial savings. Much of this comes from a reduction in
capital expenditure because the catch up expenditure we have done on hospitals
and schools and transport has actually been carried out. If you built a new
hospital in one area you do not need to build the same hospital again. If you
built and renovated a new school, as we have done, you do not need to do it
again. There will be reductions in the
capital budget but I may say that the proportion of money in our budget spent
on capital will still be higher than it was when we came into power in
1997. Equally we are making savings
through public sector pay and through public sector pensions, we are making
savings through the regeneration programme, we are making savings through the
IT programme, there will be further changes announced. I am the Chancellor, by the way when I was
Chancellor, who cut public spending in 1997 and 1998. I am also the Chancellor who brought forward
the last spending plans where we cut the budgets of seven departments. We are not afraid to make the cuts that are
necessary so that we can secure
Q35 Peter Luff: Your Chancellor says he is making public expenditure cuts. Which departments will bear the brunt of those cuts?
Mr Brown: Every department is having to ensure that they run things more efficiently. What we have been able to say is that those front line services, that is policing, healthcare and schools will be protected. The spending review will come at the appropriate moment. There is so much uncertainty about the levels of resources that are available, partly because unemployment has not gone up in the way that we expected. There may be more resources available for public services than we had expected. If we had made a decision in the last Pre-Budget Report or in the Budget, we would have to change it now because, as you know, and I think everybody should be happy about, unemployment is not rising in the way that people expected, in fact unemployment has fallen in the last two months.
Chairman: We now move to invigorating democracy. Tony Wright.
Q36 Dr Wright: Prime Minister, right from the beginning you have made political and constitutional reform a hallmark of your prime ministership and you have returned to that theme today with a major speech on these issues. Could I start by asking you this. We have got the Leader of the Opposition going around saying we have got a broken society, are you going around saying we have got a broken politics?
Mr Brown: No, but we have to repair where damage has been done. The expenses scandal shamed the House of Commons. There have been scandals also in the House of Lords that have shamed the House of Lords. We have to recognise that the public expect us to do better. There is a deeper set of issues that the public expect us to address and that is the distance between Members of Parliament, elected representatives and the people. I have tried to take power from the Executive and give it to Parliament representing the people. I have tried also to look at how we can give more direct say to individuals in our society so that they can feel more engaged in our democracy. Some of the measures I announced and suggested today will go a long way, I may say some of the measures that your Committee produced are ones that we can accept and welcome, and they will help. We have got to do quite a lot in my view as representatives of the people to make sure that the people feel that power is being wielded in both an accountable way and a way that is fully sensitive to their needs.
Q37 Dr Wright: In your speech today when you talk about the discredited old politics, you are not really saying the whole system is broken, you are just saying we need a series of sensible reforms?
Mr Brown: The discredited old politics, let us be honest, was MPs wanting to make decisions themselves about their own pay and expenses, or feeling that they had to do that under House rules rather than under regulation not self-regulation. The discredited old system is in fact still the hereditary principle in the House of Lords that somehow laws passed in our country can be passed by people who have got no claim to be in that chamber other than through hereditary. The discredited old system is, of course, where we have not lived up, as on expenses, to the expectations that people have of us.
Q38 Dr Wright: The rotten expenses system was not the product of all these constitutional arrangements, it was the product of people behaving badly, was it not?
Mr Brown: It was the product of a system of self-regulation that should have been replaced long ago by a system of statutory regulation. Let us be honest, all of us left this matter to understandings between Members of the House of Commons about what we should or should not do. It was never a matter for Government, it was never a matter where we had election manifesto commitments to implement on these things and we have had to face up to the fact that self-regulation in this area does not work. As far as the workings of the rest of our democracy are concerned, what I am really saying is that there are major changes we can make that can improve the working of our democracy. Make power more accountable to people, make people have a more direct relationship with their representatives and, of course, make the Executive give up some power it should not have to the House of Commons and to the elected authorities.
Q39 Dr Wright: You mentioned just now the Commons reform proposals and I see again in the speech today - and I welcome this very much - that you have put your authority four-square behind them. Can I just clear up this issue that is floating around there which is that, as I understand it, these proposals are to be put to the House in a form that anybody who wants to shout "object" to any of them will sink them, there and then, and some people think that this is a rather clever way of sinking the whole project. Could I just have it from you that if that is how it is to be done that the Government then will find time immediately to bring these proposals back to the House for substantive votes?
Mr Brown: Yes, we would bring the proposals back but let us be realistic. If we have to go through line by line, dot and comma on each of these proposals then we will not have the parliamentary time to be able to do that. What we are really trying to say is we prefer there to be progress as quickly as possible, we prefer there to be progress by consensus. If we can get an agreement of all the parties and all Members of the House that this is the right way to go forward then that is something which will ensure that these major proposals can be agreed as soon as possible. But if it so happens that people object - and I wish they would not because my view is we want to make progress - then we will have to start looking at this line by line and of course there is a limited amount of parliamentary time to do that, and we must be realistic about it. I want these proposals through and I want us to vote for them. We are putting proposals that I think most people who have looked at this issue would be prepared to agree with and I hope that there will be no objection to them.
Q40 Dr Wright: Just so that we are clear, I am sorry I have to press you because it is the only chance I have got, if a single person shouts "object" to any of these proposals the whole thing collapses. I want to know is if that is what happens, and some of us think that is almost bound to happen ---
Mr Brown: Well I hope not.
Q41 Dr Wright: Well I hope not but I think it will. --- is the intention then to find time, pretty much immediately, to bring these proposals back?
Mr Brown: Our intention is to find time but I have to say to you these are complicated proposals that have been agreed in a very detailed manner both by the select committee and now by the parties. If we have to go through them line by line it will be very difficult to make progress. My invocation to people is to support these proposals because the vast weight of opinion is behind them.
Connarty: Prime Minister, I am very keen we should make
progress but my concern as the chair of the European Scrutiny Committee is that
we are not about to step backwards. On
22 October we wrote to the Leader of the House pointing out that it would
require a standing order amendment to guarantee that all of the scrutiny that
we had before
Mr Brown: It is right to have proper scrutiny, and it is right to make sure that whatever time can be made available can be made available. I will look at the specific issue that you have raised and I will get back to you as quickly as possible with my own view and the view of the ministers concerned.
Q43 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister, I am delighted that you do not think we have a broken politics but just a politics that needs refurbing a bit. In your speech today you talk about the new politics. One or two of the new politics ideas that you brought forward when you first became Prime Minister have not worked out quite as strong or effective as we thought they might be. Can you tell us a little more about the right of recall of MPs by the people? You have mentioned this on two or three occasions. Could you put a little flesh on how that would work?
Mr Brown: If there was a situation where wrongdoing was proven by the IPSA and accepted by their recommendations, and if the House then refused to take the action that was recommended, in these particular circumstances, that is financial impropriety, there must be some right for the electorate to pass some verdict on that so we need a process for that to happen. This would only be in a position where there was effectively financial corruption and where the House refused to act.
Q44 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister, the Legg process has just about ended now, looking back on this rather torrid year that we have all faced in this place, and rightly been criticised for some of the actions of some of the MPs, how many MPs do you think would have been subject to a recall, given what you know about the cases that we have gone through over these last months?
Mr Brown: I cannot say because a number of cases are now with the police and we know that they are being investigated by the policing authorities. I do not think that this is by any means over and I think it would be better to make a judgment on that later.
Wright: When you came into office Prime Minister you
made this big programme statement about political reform, the governance of
Mr Brown: It was actually. It was that we were going to publish a document on the electoral systems which we then went on to do and, as a result of that, I made further announcements later.
Q46 Dr Wright: There was to be a review of the working of the existing systems, that is what you are referring to. I think what people are entitled to ask is what has changed in the last couple of years to bring electoral reform to the top of the agenda and when did you have your conversion experience?
Mr Brown: I think if you look back to
1997 we were committed to a review of the electoral system. The review was then done by the late Roy
Jenkins who made a number of recommendations.
Unfortunately there was no consensus emerged around the Jenkins
proposals, in fact his proposals did not command the agreement that we had
expected. We then said in 2005 that we
would have a review of the electoral systems.
We published that, I think I am right in saying, in 2008, it could have
been 2007-2008. On the basis of that,
and looking at what has happened, not least in relation to Parliament and its
reputation over the last year, it seems to me that we had to reach a conclusion
on where we could go. There are very
strong views held by people, let us be honest there are people who are wedded
to first past the post but mainly because they want the constituency link
between a Member of Parliament and the constituency they represent, and then
there are people who have got a very strong view that the electoral system
should be proportionate, and I can understand that. Of course we have the
experience of a large number of different systems operating in the
Q47 Dr Wright: I think we all know that there is no perfect electoral system. There are advantages and disadvantages of every kind of system. I am still not entirely clear though what is the problem to which the alternative vote is the solution? Many people have always described it as replacing a system where the most popular person wins with a system where the least unpopular person wins.
Mr Brown: If I may put it the other way, the person who wins has got in the end to command a majority of the people who are voting and, therefore, we do not have a situation where in some constituencies, I think in 1992 in Inverness the winner got 26 per cent of the votes, his or her votes would be redistributed from the second, third and fourth preferences, so in a sense every vote does count. If people wish to put a second, third and fourth preference then that vote can count and even if they are not voting for the first person in the first ballot they have a say in how the final selection happens. There are advantages, in my view, in the system so I can come, and others can come, to the House of Commons and say, "Well, at the end of the day, we had the majority of the people in my constituency voting for me after the preferences were redistributed". I think that is a good system and a better system than the one we have got. I agree with you there is no perfect system. I have always been concerned that we can maintain the constituency link for Members of Parliament. I believe in the 25 years I have been in Parliament that link has become more important not less important and I believe if people thought we were removing that link through some other electoral system they would be very disappointed and angry indeed, and keeping that constituency link is something that is important to me.
Q48 Dr Wright: The only serious look at electoral systems that we have had since 1997 was the Jenkins Commission set up by your predecessor. If you go back and look at what they said - I will just quote briefly - "AV on its own suffers from a stark objection. It offers little prospect of a move towards greater proportionality and in some circumstances it is even less proportionate than first past the post". Most people thought the thing we needed to do was make our system rather more proportional than it is. Now whatever else it does, an AV has good things attached to it, it does not do that, does it?
Mr Brown: I am not going to get into a big debate about other systems than AV but in the end you lose some of the constituency link, there is no doubt about that. The issue since 1997 has not just been the Jenkins reform, we have had the experience of what has happened in Wales, the experience of what has happened in Northern Ireland, the experience of what has happened in Scotland, the experience of what has happened in London, and I think many people draw different conclusions from you from the experiences that we have seen in these areas.
Q49 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister - and this is not in your speech today - it does appear from the answer you gave in Prime Ministers Questions a few weeks ago that you are having something of a flirtation with votes at 16, is that right?
Mr Brown: I have always believed that if you could do three things at the same time: one if you could have the best citizenship education in the school, two if at the age of 16 people assumed the British citizenship in a formal way and three you could then go on to have votes at 16 but I think the three things ought to come together. I think there is a doubt amongst members of the public about whether people at 16 have got the maturity to cast their votes. I do not agree with that, I think most people do have but I think it would be far better combined - I am in favour of votes at 16 - with better citizenship education that is leading towards that and at the same time some people assuming citizenship at that age.
Q50 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister, I think you and I would agree that one of the greatest things the Labour Government has done is what we did in Every Child Matters and the five outcomes for children.
Mr Brown: I think you were very much involved in that as well so thank you for what you did.
Q51 Mr Sheerman: Thank you, Prime Minister. Many people who care about childhood believe that the pressures on childhood are immense, commercial pressures, the pressures of testing and assessment, all the pressures on a modern childhood in a modern environment. Many people believe that votes at 16 would take some of the crucial protections of children and childhood away because it would pull down the age of adulthood to 16. Are you worried about some of the voices that argue that childhood would shrink if we had votes at 16?
Mr Brown: I think you are really talking about two separate things. As a parent the pressures on both parents and young people are, as you say, enormous now. When we were growing up - and I think I am speaking for all Members of the Committee now - the major influences on our lives were our parents, our school, perhaps our church or faith group and friends, now the influences on a young person growing up, particularly very young people, include the internet, television and videos, texting, mobile phones, all these come into play at some point during a young person's youth. Where the influences were quite specific when we were growing up, these influences are ones that even parents do not know the full weight of as they influence a young child's development. I think we should think more about the pressures on parents and how we can respond better to these huge influences that were not there in our youth but are now on children. I do not think it makes young people less mature, I think it makes young people more knowledgeable about what is happening, more able to find out what is happening, more informed if they choose to be so. My only issue here is if we are going to have a big reform like this we ought to be sure that citizenship, education and the knowledge that young people can get from a school particularly but generally is sufficiently good so that we can have some faith that the citizenship they are assuming is one they will take seriously.
Q52 Mr Sheerman: Prime Minister, can I just push you once more on this. We have had some ghastly cases around child protection in recent months and child protection is a very important part of the work that we do in our Committee. There is a very real fear when we looked at looked after children, children in care, that any attempt to bring down the age of a child to 16 would leave some of the most vulnerable children in our society, between 16 and 18, pray to some pretty ghastly influences in society. What do you say about that?
Mr Brown: I would say, I am afraid, that these teenagers are pray to some of these influences already and we have to ensure that particularly young children leaving care - I feel very, very strongly about this - are given the best support that is possible. As a country, we have to recognise that some of the most vulnerable people in our country are those children who have been in care until a certain age, then leave care and often find themselves without qualifications, therefore no jobs, without proper accommodation and without the support that they need. We have got to do more for that group of people and you are absolutely right that child protection in that area is incredibly important.
Q53 Mr Sheerman: That was a very full answer, Prime Minister. Will you consult widely before you move to a vote at 16?
Mr Brown: There is no question that there would have to be a wide consultation on this. We have talked to young people themselves about it. We have had a Youth Citizenship Commission that actually in the end did not make a full recommendation but it is a live issue that I believe we should be prepared to discuss. I would prefer to discuss it in the context of better citizenship education.
Connarty: One question on behalf of the voters, Prime
Minister. I taught modern studies and government
political systems right from 11 up to 18. It is all very well in an ivory tower
to talk about systems and what is good for the voter, you will have the same
problems I have, your next door neighbours do not know who their four
councillors are, who their six MEPs are for Scotland, who their eight MSPs are
for the Scottish Parliament, and will they understand why we want to bring in
yet another voting system? Surely the
voter has to be considered and if it is good enough for one system maybe we
should have the same system for all other electoral levels because the
electorate are totally confused in
Mr Brown: Let me say, first of all, from my experience your constituents know who you are. You are very well recognised in your own area, and that is a tribute to you. We have got different voting systems at the moment, the question is whether the voting systems are the best ones. We have a different voting system for the Welsh Assembly to the Scottish Parliament to the Northern Ireland Assembly to the Mayor of London and to the European Parliament. At the moment we have a number of different systems that exist side by side. The question you have to ask is not whether there are going to be a number of different systems, there are, but whether we can get a better system for the area we are talking about at at the moment which is the House of Commons and I believe we can. I believe we should at least give the voters the chance to make a decision on whether they want it. I do not think it is asking too much of MPs to allow the voters in a referendum to decide. I think it would enhance politics.
Q55 Dr Wright: Can I just ask a couple of questions as we end. One of them I take from President Obama's State of the Union speech last week. What I am after is the idea that although we talk about all these political and constitutional structural changes what Obama bangs on about is how we do politics. He says in his State of the Union speech, "What frustrates people is where everyday is election day we cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent". He goes on to say, "This is sewing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government" and he says "I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics". Do you not think ---
Mr Brown: Nor will I. I think he is right. I think we do ourselves a disservice on so many occasions by the way in the House of Commons or as politicians we behave. You are looking for a forum all the time in this country where people can discuss in a sensible way very serious issues. People, for example, want us to discuss the issues about what are the prospects for young people, they want us to discuss the issues that they are worried about about childcare protection, they want us to discuss Afghanistan as a big issue, and we have not, to be honest, found the best way has been our divisive form of politics in the House of Commons to discuss the big issues and the big challenges that affect the country. It is a regret to me that while I would like to see less partisanship in the way that we look at some of these big issues it has proved to be impossible. It is something that President Obama will obviously feel as well because he has tried, his outreach is to ask people to look at these issues without partisan eyes on occasions and to look at the broader national interest and, of course, he has been not able to persuade his opponents to do that either.
Q56 Dr Wright: My last question is you have taken steps to curtail the prerogative powers that exist in this country, why do you not at this stage in the electoral cycle tell us when you are going to have an election and do that as an emblem to fixed term parliaments?
Mr Brown: I think fixed term parliaments, even if we had a written constitution ---
Q57 Dr Wright: Which you are in favour of.
Mr Brown: --- which I would like to see happen but it is going to take time to get an agreement amongst so many people both about what should be in that constitution, as I keep saying should it be like the South African constitution or should it simply be a constitutional documents that do not refer to some of the big issues of social and economic and individual rights, you have got to make a decision about what that is. Until that day when you have got this clear written constitution which would require a date for elections we are in this situation which we are in at the moment where it rests on my shoulders to decide when the election will be.
Chairman: We move on now to counter-terrorism policy. Keith Vaz.
Q58 Keith Vaz: It is May 6, is it?
Mr Brown: I do not give answers to questions --- this is not a question about the election you are asking me!
Q59 Keith Vaz: Counter-terrorism, Prime Minister, it is obviously very high on the Government's agenda. You have made more statements to Parliament on this issue than any other Prime Minister has and the budget is now £3.5 billion to our security services, an increase of 215 per cent over the last ten years. It is accepted now that there are about 2,000 people in this country who pose a serious threat to this country, an increase of about 25 per cent in five years. Does it worry you that there has been such an increase despite all that the Government has done as far as the counter-terrorism agenda is concerned?
Mr Brown: I do not want to get into figures about the numbers that the security services are tracking, and I do not think it would be helpful to do so. The issue about the use of our security services, how they use their time, is an important one however, and we have doubled the number of our security services staff over these last years, since September 11. We have also, and I think this is really important, almost doubled the number of police who are directly working on counter-terrorism. We have created regional units so that we are not simply dealing with problems in one city but we are dealing with problems in a lot of cities. I do believe that we have enhanced at every point when we have got information to do so our security apparatus, both in terms of our surveillance, in terms of our collation of information and in terms of the co-ordination of the services but every day there is a new problem and every day you have got to look at whether you are doing things well and every day you have got to make changes if you think it is necessary given the changes in technology or the changes in the method of terrorist or simply the changes in the landscape from where terrorists are emerging which as you know is not simply Pakistan and Afghanistan now but it is Somalia, Yemen and other countries as well.
Q60 Keith Vaz: The threat level has now been increased, ten days ago the Home Secretary announced it had increased. Of course this is not a decision of ministers, this was the advice given by JTAC, it then went to COBRA. Presumably you were informed on the same day that JTAC made its decision?
Mr Brown: Yes, and the important thing
to recognise is that after the
Q61 Keith Vaz: We understand, obviously, that these things must remain confidential. The decision to increase the threat level is based on confidential intelligence that you cannot share with the public. Do you think the public ought to have been given, and in future ought to be given, more information as to what they should do as a result of the level going up from substantial to severe or from severe to critical because obviously they see the Home Secretary making the announcement, they understand the words but they do not know, should they leave their briefcase at home, should they do something different from what they were doing yesterday? That kind of information would be most helpful, where it is at the moment?
Mr Brown: It is obviously to all those people who are concerned with the security of our country. Our aviation security has been intensified as you know. We are introducing this e.borders system which will give us far more ability to stop people from coming into the country in the first place and that is developing over the course of this year. It is an alert therefore that all those people who are concerned with managing our borders, looking at our security, organising flights, they will be aware of. As far as the general public are concerned, I too am wanting to make sure that we are clear about what is happening with radicalisation in our universities, what is happening with radicalisation in our prisons and we have got to be pretty clear, therefore, that we are making all the efforts that are necessary there as well. The alert is a call for the public to be vigilant but it is also a statement that we are taking what action we can to make sure that our country is as safe as possible.
Q62 Keith Vaz: When it goes up is the underlying message you must be more vigilant because something may be happening?
Mr Brown: I think people will be more vigilant but you have to put this in proper perspective. Until a year ago, of course, we had the higher alert, it was severe, we reduced it and, of course, because of the committee's assessment of intentions and capabilities, they have raised it again.
Vaz: You have mentioned airport security, of course
the Abdulmutallab incident. Yesterday the Transport Secretary announced body
scanners were to be rolled out in
Mr Brown: I think body scanners will be a major improvement. There are new technologies being used by the terrorist organisation, al-Qaeda, and we have got to keep up with them. That is one of the reasons why we have given a lot of incentives to companies to develop new technologies that could spot some of the things that are now being done. We are using the newest technology to the best of our ability by bringing in these body scanners but obviously over time our technology will improve and enable us to do even more.
Vaz: One of the issues is not just having the
scanners here but being able to work with countries abroad and it is the
international standards. Does it concern
you that there are no international standards at the moment which people can
adhere to so that what we do in Europe, which is obviously of the highest
possible level, matches a country like Nigeria or Yemen? We may have 20 body scanners but
Mr Brown: As you know, we suspended
Q65 Keith Vaz: You have probably not had a chance to read the Select Committee report that we published this morning.
Mr Brown: I have had a chance to see the headlines.
Q66 Keith Vaz: Prime Minister you of all people should never judge an article by the headlines. We have recommended the establishment of a national committee that will bring together the security service, a national security committee. It is actually building on the foundations that we have at the moment because you have a Cabinet committee at the moment that deals with national security. There is the Home Secretary's weekly Thursday morning meeting, there is COBRA, there is JTAC, obviously a lot of people doing a lot of good work. Do you not think that it is important to bring together the various strands in order to ensure that you have the best possible advice from those who know about these issues?
Mr Brown: Although you have criticised us today I just remind you that on July 7 last year you said, "The UK's counter-terrorism apparatus is first-class, effective and as joined-up as any system of government can expect".
Q67 Mr Willis: Touché!
Mr Brown: As far as the National Security Committee (NSec) is concerned, I just want to make sure there is no misunderstanding on this. That meeting has, of course, the ministers who are concerned with every area of security but it also has the Chief of the Defence Staff, it has the chief of all the security agencies, it has the chief of the Metropolitan Police Terrorism Division, it has all those people there who are either the chief security advisers or head the agencies. In fact there seems to be very little difference between your proposal and what we actually do. Perhaps the only way I can convince you is by inviting you to a meeting to see for yourself that all these people are sitting around the Cabinet table and they all have a chance to contribute to this debate and this is the committee where we make and recommend to the Cabinet decisions on security, and the people you want to be there are actually there now.
Keith Vaz: I do not know whether that is a coded way of inviting me to join your Cabinet.
Q68 Rosemary McKenna: In your dreams.
Mr Brown: I would be pretty direct if I was talking to you about these things.
Q69 Keith Vaz: Maybe a bit late in the day! Prime Minister we accept that, we accept you have got a Cabinet committee, the worry is that it may well be a little fragmented. For example, going back to scanners, scanners you would have thought was a Home Office policy but in fact it is the Department for Transport that takes the lead. Is there any way in which you can look at the structures to see if they can be improved? The programme you have on counter-terrorism is pretty ambitious: you want to protect the public, you have given them more money.
Mr Brown: We have trebled the budget on
counter-terrorism. Every week I am looking, as are other ministers, with those
important advisers at what is happening and at the danger that we face from
potential terrorists coming from
Q70 Keith Vaz: Finally from me on bogus colleges.
We understand that part of the points-based system has now been
Mr Brown: Since March
2009 any institution that wishes to bring foreign students into the
Q71 Keith Vaz: And you have received no information that suggests that this route is being used by those who want to support terrorists or indeed are would-be terrorists?
Mr Brown: We are looking all the time at any possible routes that any would-be terrorists would use and if people are declaring themselves to be students when they are not genuinely students, and using a bogus route to get into the United Kingdom, then it is our duty to try and stop this. Therefore we continue to be vigilant to what is happening in this particular area.
Keith Vaz: Thank you.
Q72 Mr Dismore: Could I talk to you about the counter-terrorism legal framework, Prime Minister. I am sure you would agree that counter-terrorism law has evolved over quite a long period now and they are special open-ended measures that are bolted on to the ordinary law and are theoretically supposed to be temporary, but there is always a risk of them becoming permanent. Last year in May, Jack Straw gave a public lecture when he said that the time had come for going through the counter-terrorism legislation to work out whether we still needed it. Would you agree with him about that?
Mr Brown: We certainly still need it. The question is whether we can look at it afresh in the light of all the information we now have. There is always a case for consolidation, and so I do not disagree with you that there could be a case for consolidation, but I do say to you that we do need counter-terrorism legislation. We are dealing with a real threat that affects people in our country and that has led to a number of incidents where people have lost their lives tragically and it is our duty to protect every citizen of this country.
Q73 Mr Dismore: I certainly would not disagree with you about that but the real question is whether the counter-terrorism legislation is too draconian, whether it actually works, and whether it is effective. For example, if we look at the question of control orders, which have had quite a battering over the last few years in the courts, in particular, we have now got 12 in force. Originally altogether there have been about 45 people covered but there are only 12 now. Since they came in, seven people have absconded. The restrictions that can be imposed or are imposed in control orders have reduced. The average curfew for example now is only ten hours and two have no curfews at all out of those 12. We know that the Home Office has spent £8 million on legal costs just defending the legal cases, and if you add in the legal aid for the controlees and the cost of the court hearings and so forth, it is probably nearer £20 million. Would that £20 million not have been better spent on more police officers to keep tabs on these people more effectively so they could not abscond? You are not interfering with their human rights or their right to go about their business in the same way; you do not get the same bad publicity for these extraordinary measures; and you would probably have a rather more effective way of keeping tabs on what they are doing.
Mr Brown: Can I put the other side of the story? The problem we have is that there are people whom we suspect of terrorist activity who we can neither deport from the country nor are we in a position to prosecute. There is this grey area where we have got to defend the people of this country but cannot take these two extreme actions, and you would not want us to do in circumstances where we did not have all the evidence that was necessary to do so or the powers to do so in relation to deportations. I have to say that when Lord Carlile, who is the independent adjudicator on this, has looked at this, he has come down in favour of what we have done on control orders. We are trying to get the balance right. You have emphasised the safeguarding of the individual rights and I accept that is an issue, but we have also got to make sure that we protect the public. Lord Carlile concludes in his report published today: "... it is my view and advice that abandoning the control orders system entirely would have a damaging effect on national security. There is no better means of dealing with the serious and continuing risk posed by some individuals." Without going in the stories of these individuals, that I do know something about, I think Lord Carlile has given us a fairly balanced judgment about what is the better way forward, accepting there is no best way forward.
Q74 Mr Dismore: Let us put it this way: certainly the issue here is protecting the public and balancing the rights of individuals; it is not an either/or. There are now only 12 people subject to control orders and ten of those have curfews averaging out, as I said, at ten hours. Lord Carlile has not actually looked at the alternative which is much more effective police surveillance. If we had £20 million to spend, which we worked out is the case, £20 million goes an awful long way in providing police officers to keep tabs on a dozen people, and probably more effectively than the control order regime actually provides, bearing in mind that they are only under curfew for ten hours a night.
Mr Brown: It is a matter of judgment.
Q75 Mr Dismore: Sorry, Lord Carlile does not actually look at that at all.
Mr Brown: I know but it is a matter of judgment. Both of us agree that we have a responsibility, as you say, to keep tabs on these people, so we are not in disagreement that where we find someone who is at risk of causing a terrorist act but we cannot prosecute and we cannot deport, we have to keep tabs on them. The question then is how we do it. You are suggesting that it can be done purely by police surveillance without a control order. I would just say that the judgment of Lord Carlile, who is clearly looking at whether control orders are a good thing or not, is that it would have a damaging effect on national security to take them away. Maybe over time we can find a better way of doing this. Everybody agrees that this is not an ideal system. Nobody wanted to bring in control orders in the first place. We were forced to do so because we were not able to deport people that we wanted to get out of the country.
Q76 Mr Dismore: The control orders were brought in because we could not lock people up without trial not because we could not deport people.
Mr Brown: Deport people or lock people up. I can only repeat what Lord Carlile says and I think it is the basis on which we have formed our balanced judgment as well.
Q77 Mr Dismore: Could I ask you about 28 days pre-charge detention. Again, this is one of the special measures. It went up from 14 days. It was last used in June 2007, getting on for three years ago. During the 2008 renewal debate I was told by the Minister that a detailed review of the cases of those detained more than 14 days in relation to the Heathrow airline plot would happen. That is Operation Overt. That review has not taken place and now I am told that there was never an intention to carry out that review anyway, even though I had been given that assurance on the floor of the House. The point here is what we need to do is to find out how this is being used and, in particular, in relation to people who are released at the end of the 28-day period without charge, who are found to be innocent, what the effect of the 28 days' detention has been on them and indeed on the wider society in which they live and what impact that has had on the whole issue for example of radicalisation. Can we actually have that review of those who were detained under Operation Overt that was promised to me in the 2008 renewal debate?
Mr Brown: I have just got to say when we were discussing the issue about going beyond 28 days, it was part of the proposal that a report would be done in every individual case and that report would be done in an independent way. I shall look at what you have been told in the House of Commons. I do not have that here at the moment but if you can give me it, I shall reply to you.
Q78 Mr Dismore: It was when Tony McNulty was the Minister in the 2008 renewal debate. Can I ask about Section 44 stop and search. As you know, a couple of weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights held that the powers of stop and search under section 44 violate the right to respect for private life because they are neither sufficiently circumscribed and defined nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against their abuse. Time and again I have been told, and my Committee has been told, by ministers and senior police officers, that section 44 should only be used strictly for counter-terrorism purposes but, in practice, it has become a lazy way for police officers to stop and search people more broadly. Indeed even in my own constituency, talking to the borough commander, there are half a dozen areas which are subject to section 44 powers, which I found rather surprising. Will you now look again at section 44 and the way it is used because I think it does undermine confidence in the police in the way that it is being used as well as it being abused in the way it is being used excessively?
Mr Brown: As far as I
understand, this case went to the ECHR after the applicants lost their previous
challenges in the divisional court, in the Court of Appeal and in the House of
Lords, and these earlier judgments said that stop and search did not interfere
with a person's human rights. The case
was related to two people, as you know, who were stopped near an arms fair in
Q79 Mr Dismore: I am sure the Home Secretary is disappointed, but my Committee is disappointed by the response that we have had in relation to this, because time and again we have had overwhelming evidence about the abuse of section 44 even when it comes to dealing with ordinary protesters having a cup of coffee or the climate change people sat in an Indian restaurant.
Mr Brown: I can accept that you feel strongly about it but you have to understand that this is a case where the applicants lost their previous challenges in the divisional court, in the Court of Appeal and in the House of Lords and therefore we now have a judgment from the ECHR. We will look at that carefully but our initial instinct is to appeal.
Q80 Mr Dismore: I understand that even Lord West the Security Minister was subject to a section 44 not so long ago.
Mr Brown: I do not know anything about that.
Q81 Mr Dismore: Can I ask you finally about a couple of points on torture, which we have explored before. You promised to make public the new guidance to the intelligence services on the detention and interrogation of suspects overseas. Will you make public the guidance which was in place between 2001 and 2007 when the allegations we have previously explored in this Committee, and in my own Committee with ministers, of complicity in torture were alleged to have happened?
Mr Brown: Let us just be clear where we start on this. We do not support torture; we do not condone torture; we do not allow torture; and we do not ask other people to torture on our behalf. I am absolutely clear that these are the principles that guide the conduct of this administration. Where there are allegations made, they are treated seriously. I wanted to publish the guidelines so that people can be in no doubt as to what are the recommendations we give to those people charged with the security of our country. What I have done is put the guidelines before the Intelligence and Security Committee. They are now looking at these guidelines. I would not want to go back in time and publish previous recommendations. I would want to publish the recommendations that are going to be in force from now on. I think that would give you the satisfaction that we as a Government are doing everything that we can.
Q82 Mr Dismore: That would be helpful for the future ---
Mr Brown: Hold on. They will come from the Intelligence and Security Committee with their advice and then we will publish them, and that is something that we have already said we will do.
Q83 Mr Dismore: That will be helpful for the future but the allegations relate to the past. I think if we are going to be able to put to rest these allegations we have to know what the guidelines were at the time when the allegations were supposed to have happened.
Mr Brown: There are cases in relation to that that are being dealt with at the moment through the courts. I think the most important thing I can do in the job I have is to make sure that people are clear about the guidelines under which the security services and all our services are operating now, and I am going to publish these very soon after I have had the advice of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Q84 Mr Dismore: The last question, Prime Minister, the Director General of the Security Service is quite prepared to talk to the press and give public lectures about what is going on in his work and the terrorism threat, but is not prepared to give evidence to my Committee. Do you think it is defensible that the Director General is prepared to talk openly to the press, to the media, to give public lectures but not give the same speech before a parliamentary committee?
Mr Brown: He has offered, as I understand it, to come before your Committee to give a confidential briefing on the current terrorist threat. The security and intelligence services are accountable to Parliament through the Intelligence and Security Committee. They do meet Mr Evans and other people who are heads of our security services. They provide formal evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee under the Act but they do not give public evidence to other committees. But if you are happy with this, they will give you a confidential briefing on the current terrorist threat, and I think that is a way of resolving the issue.
Chairman: We now move to foreign affairs: Mike Gapes?
Q85 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, last week
you hosted a major Afghan conference in
Mr Brown: You are
absolutely right that there should be a fair sharing of the burden. Let us remember why we are in
Q86 Mike Gapes: Is it not still the case that some of our partners, although they might be sending people to Afghanistan, are sending them to areas of the country where they are not engaged in the most serious military efforts, and some of them still have national caveats restricting either directly what they can do or, in the case of some countries, that they have to refer back to their capital city before they can be moved out of Kabul?
Mr Brown: This is absolutely true and this is the basis on which some countries have agreed to contribute to the Afghanistan effort, but I do say we are at a point in this effort where we also need people to train and mentor and, in some cases, partner the Afghan forces themselves, so if countries are prepared to contribute to the training and mentoring of Afghan police and Afghan armed forces that is a major contribution also because our strategy is to train up the Afghan forces so that they can do the job and allow our troops to come home.
Q87 Mike Gapes: There was a very lengthy communiqué agreed last week which puts a lot of obligations on President Karzai and his Government, but in view of the widespread corruption, the flawed election, and the fact that the Afghan Parliament have twice rejected a majority of the ministers put forward by President Karzai, have we really got any confidence that he is going to change the way he has behaved in the last few years so that we can really get things right this time in Afghanistan?
Mr Brown: I think
President Karzai came to the
Q88 Mike Gapes: But ultimately we are not going to solve this problem militarily or by policing; it is a political issue that has to be solved here, and one of the proposals in the communiqué is for a new initiative to reconcile elements of the Taliban. The communiqué - and I would like to quote a few words to you from paragraph 5 - also says that this should be based on "democratic accountability, equality, human rights, gender equality, good governance and more effective provision of government services, economic growth ..." and I could go on. How confident are we that as we bring into a political reconciliation process people who do not necessarily sign up internally, even if they say it publicly, to those principles and the Afghan constitution that we will really be able to get the kind of society in Afghanistan which is consistent with the aspirations of this communiqué?
Mr Brown: I think the
first priority is to secure a strong
Q89 Mike Gapes: And that could take years, could it not?
Mr Brown: I think the build-up of Afghan forces is going to happen very quickly.
Q90 Mike Gapes: But the other changes could take us years?
Mr Brown: The ability to transfer some districts and some provinces to Afghan control could happen relatively soon in some cases. But I agree that this will happen over a period of time. There will be a transition to Afghan control, but the policy is to make a transition to Afghan control.
Mike Gapes: I will bring in Edward Leigh.
Q91 Mr Leigh: I know famously you are a workaholic, Prime Minister, so you read all our PAC Reports, and in 2005 we found there was a helicopter shortage of 20 to 38 per cent. Just to be up-to-date, on 19 January the former Secretary of State, Geoff Hoon suggested that if he had been able to spent the money he wished to on helicopters in the period 2002 to 2004, obviously more helicopters would be available now. Was he right?
Mr Brown: The defence
budget was rising at that time. It was a
matter for the Defence Board itself to make a decision about what their
priorities were. We have had the longest
rise in the defence budget for 20 years.
We have put money available to the Defence department. They decided that they would rebalance the
programme. It was their decision that
they made. I do say as far as
helicopters in Afghanistan are concerned now, we have raised the amount of
flying hours and the amount of helicopters in Afghanistan very substantially
over the last year. So I do not accept
the first part of your allegations and I am trying to give you information
about what is actually happening on the ground in
Q92 Mr Leigh: General Lord Walker told the Chilcot Inquiry yesterday: "We had been given the target as normal by the Treasury" - in this period when of course you were Chancellor - "I think it included helicopter money. I think it included things like aircraft carriers. It was all big ticket items that were being threatened. I think we drew a line somewhere halfway down the page and said, '"if you go any further than that you will probably have to look for a new set of chiefs.'" The fact is when you were Chancellor you were putting heavy pressure from the Treasury on the defence budget, particularly on helicopters.
Mr Brown: I disagree entirely with what you are saying. I was responsible for negotiating the 2002 Spending Review which saw the largest increase in the defence budget in 20 years. The Secretary of State at the time described it as "an excellent settlement for defence that will allow us ..."
Q93 Mr Leigh: It is not what he is saying now. It is not what Geoff Hoon is saying now to the Chilcot Inquiry.
Mr Brown: "... that will allow us to invest in the continued modernisation and evolution of the Armed Forces." You know this: the Treasury provides three-year budgets to departments. It also provides for the Urgent Operational Requirements of the Ministry of Defence. There is no sense in which we were trying to cut the Ministry of Defence's budget. What happened was in one year they overspent and they had to adjust their budget accordingly.
Q94 Mr Leigh: So you do not accept the fact that we are now desperately trying to procure more helicopters and refurbish them shows that previously perhaps, when you were in charge of the budget, that we were not making the right decisions to procure them in time? You just do not accept that? You reject that evidence given by General Lord Walker and Geoff Hoon?
Mr Brown:: What I am saying to you is that the Ministry of Defence were given the biggest settlement in 20 years. It was their decisions about how they allocated the money to the specific programmes. It was not for me to tell the Ministry of Defence whether to spend their money on this or that. They made the decisions as part of the Ministry of Defence Board.
Q95 Mr Leigh: I am not going to pursue this but it is not what General Lord Walker says. He says they were given line-by-line items. What happens now?
Mr Brown: You are Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
Q96 Mr Leigh: If I talk about the Chinook Mk 3 reversion, for instance.
Mr Brown: I would like to finish this
conversation because you are the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, you
know the way the Treasury works; we allocate budgets on a three-year period to
the different departments and, I repeat, the Ministry of Defence's settlement
was welcomed at the time as the largest increase for 20 years. It is for the Ministry itself to make
decisions within its budget how it would spend on particular items of its
capital programme. As far as helicopters
now, I just want to assure you that we have almost doubled the helicopter
Q97 Mr Leigh: Nobody denies that helicopters are now coming on-stream. But for instance we were told that the Chinook Mk 3 reversion programme was supposed to be ready by May 2010 and it is not now going to be ready until late 2010, so there will be a six-month delay. The MoD were supposed to deliver the first of its upgraded Lynx by the end of 2009. They are still having delays in meeting that. What I am putting to you is that Geoff Hoon is now saying that there was this fatal delay and that if only we had made these decisions back in 2004 when he was Defence Secretary, and when he was pressing you for monies specifically on helicopters, it was you who vetoed it.
Mr Brown: I am sorry,
what happened in the early stages of the MK 3 Chinook procurement, it commenced
in 1995 under the previous administration.
Now we have a programme which has been commended by your Committee which
is allowing us to deliver more Chinooks to
Q98 Mr Leigh: Your people were briefing the press over the weekend that we are
going to both be able to deliver the aircraft carriers and maintain our role in
Mr Brown: We are
talking real and that is why Urgent Operational Requirements for
Q99 Mr Leigh: I am sorry, Prime Minister, with respect, I was not asking you about
our commitment now to the contingency budget and
Mr Brown: So we are
Q100 Mr Leigh: I was not asking you about
Mr Brown: But you are
comparing what we are doing with other departments.
Q101 Mr Leigh: So you will confirm presumably today that you are still fully committed to the aircraft carriers?
Mr Brown: I confirm
that we are committed to the aircraft carriers, but I also say to you that our
priority in defence is, as it has been over these last few years, to make sure
that what we do in
Q102 Mr Leigh: What are you going to do? At
the moment we are killing very successfully the Afghan Taliban in
Mr Brown: I do not
accept your reading of events. It is
true that the Pakistan Taliban are under huge pressure in
Q103 Mr Leigh: Thank you very much for that, Prime Minister. Would you forgive me if I just ask one question as a bit of light relief in this grim situation. When you opened your daily papers this morning ---
Mr Brown: What is the grim situation?
Q104 Mr Leigh: It is pretty grim in
Mr Brown: Your questions are!
Q105 Mr Leigh: When you opened your daily papers today did you muse along with Joseph Stalin when they asked him the question: "How many divisions does the Pope have?" and therefore his views could be safely ignored, as on your Equality Bill and anything else?
Mr Brown: I did not see that in the papers today.
Q106 Mr Leigh: You did not see it?
Mr Brown: I heard about it.
Q107 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, taking up
the point about
Mr Brown: I have got to
assure you that our view is that it is well-spent. The reason is that three-quarters of the most
significant attacks that we have uncovered affecting the
Q108 Mike Gapes: You referred to education. There has been concern for many years about the way in which the only education that many young people in Pakistan can get is through the madrassa system, either because the Pakistani Government did not spend enough on education or that there were so-called "ghost schools" operating in certain areas where people were paid but there were never any schools or teachers. What are we doing about the madrassas? How are we assisting the Pakistani Government in its own efforts to deradicalise some of those places?
Mr Brown: I have talked
to President Zardari about this and Prime Minister Gilani and I have talked to
other leaders in
Q109 Mike Gapes: We have referred already
to two countries where there have been clear links with al-Qaeda and
international terrorism and over recent weeks we have seen up the agenda come
Mr Brown: No, the
epicentre of terrorism is
Q110 Mike Gapes:
Mr Brown: Our aid to Yemen has been maintained on the basis of promises that we made and indeed it has been extended, and we will certainly do what we can to help this very, very poor country, but we must be sure also that the aid is getting to the people who need it. This is an incredibly difficult country given the conflicts that exist within the country itself. The Prime Minister was here and I talked to the President on the telephone and we offered him help with development, and we continue to do so, but we must be sure that the action that we need taken that he wants himself taken against al-Qaeda is actually undertaken.
Q111 Mike Gapes: One of the other problems
that has arisen about
Mr Brown: First of all,
Mike Gapes: Now we will move to somewhere else in the Islamic world, Iran.
Q112 Andrew Miller: Prime Minister, we have discussed Iran in this forum before on several occasions and I was going to start with a very simple question about the prospects for tougher UN and EU sanctions but, as we sat down, Reuters were announcing that the US and three European powers hope to black-list Iran's central bank and firms linked to the Revolutionary Guard. The State Department apparently are circulating an outline of possible new sanctions in London, Paris and Berlin. Is this accurate and what is your response?
Mr Brown: I have always said if Iran do not respond, the next stage is to get agreement on sanctions, and it is obviously important to get the E3 plus 3 all engaged in this process. We, Britain, have said we are prepared to take further sanctions against Iran. Obviously there will be a meeting of the European Union to discuss this very soon and I believe we can get agreement within the European Union and then the E3 plus 3 will make up their mind about further sanctions beyond those things which have been announced already.
Q113 Andrew Miller: In any sanctions regime there is always a delicate balance to be struck between how to assist the disadvantaged part of the community, how to assist the parts of the political movement which have got a more rational approach to how they would like to run their country and, on the other hand, wanting to do damage to the regime. Is there not a risk, given some of the events which are going on inside the country, that increased sanctions will simply hurt the Iranian people?
Mr Brown: I think we have to balance that off against the fact that Iran is now in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions. They are developing a weapons programme which we know has no apparent civilian use despite their protestations. The message to Iran has to be very clear, we want Iran to join the international community and agree with the international community a means by which it can develop civil nuclear power without nuclear weapons, but if it is not prepared to do so it has to be isolated from the international community, and it is a choice they are making by their failure to take action once the IAEA has shown that they are not complying with UN Security Council resolutions.
Q114 Andrew Miller: Mousavi has apparently said in the last couple of days that the Green Movement will not abandon its peaceful fight until the people's rights are preserved; peaceful protests are Iranians' right, as they are in any country. Are you confident this approach is not going to damage that counter-revolutionary force?
Mr Brown: I think you have to make a judgment, and the message we have to send is that Iran has a duty to respect human rights and the right of peaceful protest of its citizens. Everybody who has seen pictures coming out of Iran about what has happened to people who have been demonstrating is shocked by the way the regime has dealt with these peaceful demonstrations. But I think one has to take a balanced judgment about the future and it must be this, that Iran has been in defiance of the United Nations, evidence has emerged continuously about how they are trying to process a nuclear weapons programme under the cover of a civil nuclear programme, all the evidence is that the materials they are trying to bring together are not for civilian use and would not be the right materials for that civilian use of nuclear power, and it is very clear that the international community is agreed that Iran has broken its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act. What we now have to do is accept if Iran will not make some indication that it will take action, we have to proceed with sanctions. I am sorry it has come to that but I think it is essential that the international community shows that it has strength in this matter by imposing these sanctions.
Q115 Andrew Miller: What more can we do to assist the process of change in Iran without playing into the hands of the regime that claims that Western powers are just conspiring against them?
Mr Brown: Make it clear in every way possible that we are presenting Iran with the opportunity to become a respected part of the international community, that our fight is not with the people of Iran at all, that we want to make sure Iran can join the international community by complying with its obligations to the international community, and through our ability to talk to the people of Iran assure them we want them to be a peaceful part of the international community.
Q116 Andrew Miller: Finally, I hope as part of our position we would make it clear to the Iranians that it would be totally unacceptable for them to execute the nine people, probably more, they are currently threatening to hang?
Mr Brown: As you know, we are opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances and will make these views known and clear. I entirely agree with you it would be completely unacceptable for this to happen.
Q117 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, can I just conclude this section by going to the Israel-Palestine issue. As you are well aware, the situation in Gaza is absolutely desperate. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office said at the beginning of last month that in 2007 there was an average weekly number of 2,807 truckloads getting into Gaza from Israel, and this year it was 418. Recently, the Israeli Government even refused admission to the Humanitarian Affairs Minister of Belgium, and parliamentarians from many countries are not being allowed access from Israel into Gaza. What can we do, what concrete steps can we take, to get the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza both from Israel or from Egypt?
Mr Brown: You are absolutely right about this tragic set of events, and that there needs to be a means by which in the longer run the Palestinians and the Israelis can come together to reach an agreement; an agreement initially about further progress towards an agreement. I talked to the Palestinian Leader, Mr Abbas, only on Friday when he was in London about the serious situation which is being faced by people in Gaza as a result of what has happened. I want you to know that we have provided £78 million in support. We have given £50 million to help provide public services to the Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank through the World Bank Trust Fund, and we provided additional help in December.
Q118 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, how much of that has gone to the West Bank and how much is getting through to Gaza?
Mr Brown: Substantial amounts are going to both. We are helping pay for teachers, doctors, engineers and keeping services running. I do agree with you we have to find a way of getting humanitarian aid and reconstruction into Gaza. We continue to press the Israeli authorities to do so. There was a European Union Foreign Affairs Ministers' statement on 8 December calling on the Israelis to do more for that; we continue to press them. But, in the end, it is going to have to be an agreement so that people will move forward and try and get towards a settlement of the differences. I personally believe these are not intractable problems, no matter how long we have had to deal with them. I can see a way, as others do, whereby the Palestinians and Israelis could come together. First in some confidence-building measures which would ---
Q119 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, can I take you back to this question of the Gaza access first before we get on to the wider area? The question of access - if it is not possible through Israel, what is your reaction to the Egyptian Government building this wall, 10 km or 11 km long, along the border through Rafah? I understand that they want to stop smuggling, but is that not going to contribute even more to the humanitarian difficulties given that most of the things which go into Gaza are currently going through Egypt?
Mr Brown: That is the problem, is it not? That is why I was going to be clear with you that we need progress between the Israelis and Palestinians on other issues, so we can ensure the people of Gaza are given better help. It seems to me there is a stalemate which can be broken. I know that George Mitchell is working very hard to do so but it will be broken by some confidence-building measures where the Israelis are prepared to take some action including on Gaza.
Q120 Mike Gapes: In terms of the dialogue that is going on, there have been more than 20 meetings between the Egyptians, Hamas and Fatah, either direct or indirect, and they have failed to get an agreement. The Quartet has its stated policy which our Government has upheld since 2006 of not engaging with Hamas. I understand why that is the position, because they have not accepted the Quartet's principles, but nevertheless is it not clear now that that policy has failed and that the efforts through the Egyptians have also failed? Is there not the need for a complete re-think of the approach taken by not just our own Government but the European Union and the Quartet, and try to find a new way to deal with this situation?
Mr Brown: I think you are talking in a roundabout way about things which have been attempted, but the central issue is whether the Israelis and the Palestinians will be able to negotiate together a settlement. Of course, the Palestinians are divided and that is a problem, but it is the ability of the Israelis and Palestinians to come together on a common agenda - and we know what the common agenda which has to be resolved is - but I think to get there you are going to have to have some measures which assure both sides they are working in good faith. Whether George Mitchell, the President and Hillary Clinton are able to help them in that in the next few weeks is I think the essential question. I think we need some means by which we break this deadlock and allow talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume, and we of course will do everything we can to help make that possible. That, I am afraid, is the only way forward. They have got to get back to talking to each other about a solution to what are fundamental problems over many, many years, but are problems which I believe can be solved, as do many other people.
Q121 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, would you therefore characterise this as a "West Bank first" approach? Because it is quite clear that the writ of President Abbas, Fatah and the Palestinian authority does not run in Gaza, and there is no possibility of a two-state solution including Gaza in current circumstances, is there?
Mr Brown: No, I would not characterise it as that because there are many issues relating to Gaza which are going to have to become part of any discussions between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and at some point the Palestinians have to become a more united force in putting their case.
Chairman: We will now move to the final theme of being Prime Minister.
Q122 Sir Alan Beith: Prime Minister, when you took over as Prime Minister you found at Number 10 an office to support the Prime Minister with about 200 people in it. Did you think it was well geared to its purpose and how would you define its purpose?
Mr Brown: The purpose is to lead the Government and to co-ordinate the work of Government wherever possible. I think big structural changes are going to happen in the way we govern over the next period of time, and we have only begun to see the benefits of the new technology that is available to us. As you know, a few months ago we published a document about restructuring Government which is the beginning of our thoughts about how we can adapt the way Government is organised in a new technological age. So there is a lot which I would say now we have to change for the future.
Q123 Sir Alan Beith: Tony Blair apparently thought it had to be changed at a more basic level. One witness to a Lords Committee said that Tony Blair thought the Prime Minister, far from being too powerful, was not powerful enough to have effective control over the direction of Government, and therefore he built up the central capacity of Number 10. I am not asking you to confirm whether that was Tony Blair's view, although it sounds pretty much in character, but is it your view and is it your frustration that in some respects the Prime Minister is not powerful enough?
Mr Brown: I was brought up studying history and, as you know, the debate has always been about whether you have Cabinet Government or whether you have prime ministerial government. Certainly the Prime Minister is far more in the headlines and people focus politics in a very personalised way towards one individual or one set of individuals, but my reading of the work of Government is it is collective and the Cabinet does matter. I think we have had more Cabinet meetings than most and we have wider discussions than I think have taken place in the past about the various issues before us. I hesitate to take this one-dimensional view, that it is all about prime ministerial government and about building up the power of the Prime Minister. That is not my view. It is about a Cabinet that works, it is about individual departments that can work, and with a clear purpose for what you intend. For example, when we had the recession, we reorganised Government to deal with that, certainly around me chairing meetings of a new Economic Policy Committee, but we found that was the best way to bring officials, ministers and in some cases business together to deal with the recession. That was a committee, it was working as an effective Cabinet committee and I found that was the best way of dealing with the new problem we had to confront.
Q124 Sir Alan Beith: That is very interesting because Geoff Mulgan, who used to direct the Forward Strategy Unit, said in evidence to the Lords Committee that when you became Chancellor, the Treasury became "much more powerful, more activist and initiated policy across Government". Actually, he described it as a creative tension, a mutual challenge; others described it in much more unfavourable terms. That has all gone now, has it not? Once you moved from the Treasury to Number 10, the centre of Government lost that constructive or destructive tension because you were running the whole show.
Mr Brown: No, I do not agree - you might expect me not to agree and you might expect me to paint a different picture from some of the lurid accounts which other people want to portray. In 1997 the problem for the Treasury was that it had to be more than a finance ministry, it had to be an economic ministry, and that was why the Treasury had to change. It is not enough in the modern world simply to have a finance ministry, you have to be able to deal with the wider economic issues. The relationship between Number 10, the business department and the Treasury is incredibly important, but the Treasury remains an economic ministry and not just a finance ministry. It is important to recognise that if you simply have a finance ministry in the modern world, you will not be able to deal with the wide range of economic problems which finance is certainly part of but is wider than finance, including international economic co-operation. I think the Treasury is an economic ministry, it should not be seen as a finance ministry, and that is still the case. I think Alistair Darling and I have worked very well together and I do believe he has done an excellent job in taking this country through the recession.
Q125 Sir Alan Beith: Does that mean you are still running the Treasury from across the road?
Mr Brown: No, not at all. Dealing with a recession, and dealing with a financial recession, as we have done - and this is an insight for me into government - demands a degree of international co-operation which I do not think people outside government now recognise. You could not deal with this global financial recession without countries in Europe co-operating and America working with Europe, and it had to be done at both levels - heads of government and finance or economic ministry level. The contact between me and President Obama, and me and President Sarkozy or Chancellor Merkel or other members of the G20 has been very intense over the last period of time. But, equally, because we are dealing with new financial regulations, dealing with liquidity and capital ratios for banks and everything else, the detailed work which has also had to be done across the international community involving the Treasury has been very extensive indeed. I think the new world is that we are part of a global economy, we are increasingly part of a global society and increasingly the leaders, whether they are the economic leaders or the political leaders, have to spend more time talking to each other about these very, very big problems.
Q126 Sir Alan Beith: While you are doing that, and we all understand why you have to do it, is not Number 10 generating policy initiatives which do not have the evidence base which policy initiatives developed by departments do, and Number 10 then feeds these out into the system in order to try and keep you in the news on domestic issues and ensure that while you are busy with the international situation they in some way are promoting ---
Mr Brown: I think you read too many newspapers; I really do! We have changed the structure of government, we have an Economic Policy Committee which meets regularly to discuss economic issues, and every minister is free to issue their ideas about what should happen. It has been a very co-operative exercise as we have tried to deal with employment, housing and business needs throughout the recession. We have a Domestic Policy Committee looking at all the issues which perhaps you are commenting on, and we go through all these issues, whether it is alcohol laws, whether it is Sure Start, whether it is the Education White Paper and the Health White Papers that we have seen. Then we have a Constitutional Reform Committee which has looked at the very issues I have been discussing with you this afternoon and from which sprang the speech I have given today. Our decisions about the alternative vote have been after lengthy discussions which have taken place over the last few months about the constitution and about future changes in the constitution. Then you have NSec which is the National Security Committee, which is made up not just of ministers but, as I have said, in attendance are all the major security chiefs and serving officers. So the structure of government is certainly co-ordinated and co-ordinated through the Cabinet Office and Number 10, and I think it is far more efficient in allowing people to take their initiatives on policy but to deal with them in a collective way by discussion in these major new committees.
Q127 Sir Alan Beith: It is interesting you did not mention the Cabinet Office, but never mind.
Mr Brown: I just mentioned the Cabinet Office at the end; co-ordinated through Number 10 and the Cabinet Office. As you know, our foreign affairs work is done through the Cabinet Office where it used to be done through Number 10. That is a change I made when I took over.
Q128 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister, I do not know how many newspapers you read, and I do not know whether while you were in Northern Ireland last week you had any time to read any at all, but you may have noticed that one of the leaders of a minority party last week lamented the fact, without criticising you personally, that nearly three days of the time of two Heads of Government were taken up with the affairs of Northern Ireland. What makes Northern Ireland in general and the peace process in particular so different from other policy areas that it has required the personal, and quite regular, intervention at prime ministerial level of John Major, Tony Blair and now you?
Mr Brown: First, it is because we want Northern Ireland to escape the violence that has been its legacy from the past and which, thankfully, as a result of the devolution of power and the cross-party government, has been brought to a virtual end. So it is about the security of the people of Northern Ireland and our responsibilities for the security of all people in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is secondly about completing a process which was started by John Major, moved forward in a very brilliant way by Tony Blair when the St Andrews Agreement was negotiated. But is still unfinished business because we do not yet have the devolution of policing and justice and we therefore do not have the end to the constitutional conflict over who does what, which has been a problem for Northern Ireland for many, many decades. We do not therefore have the certainty that you have an Assembly which is looking at schools, hospitals, housing and everything else and is stable in the way that an Assembly with the completion of the devolution powers would be. I think I have a responsibility to spend the time which is necessary to bring, if you like, to an end one chapter which is incomplete devolution and potentially a stalemate, and open a new chapter which is devolution complete, politics seen to irrevocably triumph in Northern Ireland, and people then ready to move forward and have an Assembly which is focusing on the issues which are of real concern to the people of Northern Ireland.
Q129 Sir Patrick Cormack: Naturally I wish you success, Prime Minister, and we all hope your efforts are suitably rewarded in the next few days perhaps. But how do you, when you are grappling with all the issues that you face, decide when it is important for you to make a prime ministerial intervention or take a prime ministerial initiative and not to leave it to your appointed secretary of state?
Mr Brown: You were in Northern Ireland last week, and I am sorry that our meeting at Hillsborough prevented you from having your dinner at Hillsborough with your Select Committee members. You were very gracious about being moved to another restaurant! I did not decide to go to Northern Ireland to make it difficult for you to have dinner at Hillsborough!
Q130 Sir Patrick Cormack: I would never suggest such a thing!
Mr Brown: It seemed to me at this point that there were certain issues which, together with the Taoiseach of Ireland, Brian Cowen, I could help move forward. What we did do in the three days was provide a pathway for the completion of these negotiations. The fact that these negotiations are taking time is hardly surprising because there are a number of issues still outstanding from the St Andrews Agreement which were unresolved but I hope, on the basis of what has been done by both the ministers, the Foreign Minister of Ireland, Micheál Martin, and Shaun Woodward, our Secretary of State, that we are moving things, inching things, forward. I think in the end, this agreement has to be an agreement of the parties themselves in Northern Ireland and we are there to help them reach that agreement. I think previous agreements may have looked different; I think this has to be the parties working together to sort out the problems they have.
Q131 Sir Patrick Cormack: Amen to that, and you know very well that we were perfectly content to have our dinner in a different place, Prime Minister. Could I move to something else which has exercised people a lot over the last year or more, and that is the role of the special adviser? How many special advisers do you have at Number 10? What is the number compared with your Civil Service contingent at Number 10? How do you decide when to consult one and when to consult the other? Does not the proliferation of political advisers jeopardise to some degree the impartiality of the Civil Service?
Mr Brown: As you know, when I took over I changed the rules, these Orders in Council, which had given to political advisers the power to instruct civil servants. I changed that because I thought it was far better to find an atmosphere in which civil servants could work together with political advisers, recognising the importance of both. Now you will find in the Constitutional Reform Act I am right in saying the position of political advisers is for the first time set out in legislation, but in the end, it is a co-operative arrangement. The Civil Service work under guidelines which require them to maintain their independence and impartiality, and we ensure that is upheld, as it is, but equally it is important that for the workings of government political advisers and civil servants can work together on the development of policies. From my experience, there are very few tensions between the political advisers and the civil servants.
Q132 Sir Patrick Cormack: What are the respective numbers?
Mr Brown: I have a figure of about 26 political advisers - roughly where we were when I came in. I am very happy to give the figures to the Committee.
Q133 Sir Alan Beith: You are back up to where you were when you came in?
Mr Brown: It is roughly the same, as I understand it, but I am happy to send the figures to the Committee.
Q134 Sir Patrick Cormack: What do you say to those, some very eminent civil servants among them, who say that sofa government has taken over from Cabinet government?
Mr Brown: I can assure you, I have no sofa in my office. I was explaining earlier that I think what has been proven over the last year, particularly in dealing with the recession, is that the collective actions and the collective responsibility of ministers working together is the major means by which we deal with problems. I am saying there is a complicating factor now which is a good thing, and that is we are part of a global economy where people co-operate together, and that does mean that the heads of government or the finance ministers are more likely to be the people who are co-operating and working at an international level. I have found that the work we have done to deal with the recession, as we are dealing with the other issues, is best done by these collective groups working together. I think political advisers and civil servants can help towards that. But we are dealing, as I say, with a new situation at an international level, where I hope global co-operation will be enhanced, and because you do not have any institutions for global co-operation at the moment it tends to be more on an ad hoc, individual and personal basis.
Q135 Mr Whittingdale: Prime Minister, as well as special advisers you, more than any of your predecessors, have sought to bring into your Government as ministers people with outside knowledge and experience. Yet the majority of those seem to have left the Government after a relatively short period and have appeared to be somewhat disillusioned by their experience. Are you disappointed that the efforts you have made to build a Government of all the talents have not been more successful?
Mr Brown: I think it was always understood that some ministers who were coming in, would come in for a limited period of time and they would do a particular job and they would want to move back to other things they wanted to do. So I am not surprised we had ministers in for a period of time who did a particular job and then decided they had other things they wanted to do. These ministers have been successful and they have made a huge difference. We have at the moment Admiral West, who is our Security Minister, and I think he has done an excellent job. We have Mervyn Davies, the former head of Standard Chartered, and he is in the Government as the Minister for Trade, and I think anybody from the business community is most impressed by how he has brought together and is reorganising the UK DTI. We have Paul Myners, the Financial Services Minister ---
Q136 Sir Alan Beith: I think we know the list.
Mr Brown: He was implying they had all left, and these are people who are doing these jobs at the moment. Paul Drayson, who is the Minister for Science. They are all doing an excellent job and I think we should recognise that this is of benefit to government if used wisely. You have to get the right people and you have to accept that some people are doing other things, like Ara Darzi who was a Health Minister but was also a surgeon who wanted to go back to his research. He did a brilliant job in helping us build up confidence amongst the staff in the NHS about its reforms but wanted to get back to the practice he was trained for, which is as one of the country's leading surgeons.
Q137 Mr Whittingdale: But to give just two examples, Lord Malloch-Brown left the Government saying he had found it to be more chaotic and short-termist than many he had known in developing countries. Lord Digby-Jones concluded, "the Civil Service runs the country, ministers are completely disposable and dispensable." Are you concerned at the verdict of some of those you brought in?
Mr Brown: Not really. At the end of the day, many of the people who have come in and are helping Government, are personalities in their own right, they want to go and do other things, they can make controversial statements. I think you have to look at this as a whole. Have we benefited from having the expertise of people who have been prepared to serve in the Government, and in some cases serve for limited periods of time but do particular things, like the digital work which Lord Carter did? I have to answer, yes, we have benefited from that work, and I think the country has benefited from that work as a whole. I would be surprised if the Opposition wanted to make an issue of this because I think the whole country benefits when we have people of talent who are prepared to give time to serve the nation.
Q138 Mr Whittingdale: When sometimes you have appointed ministers from within the House of Commons, there have been complaints they have found the experience completely overwhelming, they have arrived in a job without proper knowledge or training, is one of the reasons why you are looking to broaden the Government that you have found it difficult to find suitable people within the pool of talent in the House of Commons?
Mr Brown: That is certainly not a problem in the Labour Party, we have people of immense talent in the House of Commons. I do not know why you should think of that as being even a possibility in the House of Commons, you must be thinking of some other party!
Q139 Mr Whittingdale: Can I conclude. Your predecessor made it clear in the run up to the last election that if re-elected he would not serve a full term. How long would you like to go on being Prime Minister?
Mr Brown: My prime ministership depends on the people of this country and that is their decision to make over the next few months, and I do not want to add to that.
Q140 Mr Whittingdale: We quite understand the people will decide but how long would you like to go on being Prime Minister?
Mr Brown: I will do the job as long as I feel I can make a contribution to this country. At the end of the day - and this is why this is a very strange session, if I may say so, talking about the job of the Prime Minister when we have so many policy issues to deal with - I would leave the decision in the hands of the good sense of the British electorate.
Q141 Mr Whittingdale: As your predecessor recognised, the people were entitled to know he did not intend to serve a full term at the last election, is it your intention to serve a full term if re-elected this time?
Mr Brown: If I stand for election, I would be putting myself forward for the term of that election. That is obvious, is it not?
Q142 Sir Alan Beith: Prime Minister, I do not think you should be surprised that in the last of these sessions before the election we might think it appropriate that the voters should know how the job is done and what the demands on it are. Thank you for helping us in that respect.
Mr Brown: I am very grateful!
Chairman: May I say that some of us are geriatric enough
to remember when Mrs Thatcher brought in John Davis from the
Mr Whittingdale: He was very successful.
Q143 Chairman: He was very successful, yes. Prime Minister, this is the end of our sixteenth sitting, it is probably the last one we will have in this Parliament. It is something which never could have happened before. Our clerk assures me that the only previous Prime Ministers to attend Committees did so at the beginning of the last century and they did so not as Prime Minister but in their dual role as Leader of the House. May I thank you and your predecessor for both your roles in pioneering and establishing a new form of parliamentary accountability for Prime Ministers. Thank you very much.
Mr Brown: Thank you all very much. I am very grateful to you for the way you have conducted proceedings. Thank you, Chairman.